I've recently had the chance to interview a true pioneer of the ethical fashion industry: the lovely Angelina Rennel of Beklina. When Beklina opened its (virtual) doors in 2006, it was one of the very first online eco boutiques out there. In this interview we chat about how the ethical fashion industry has changed since then, how she decides whether new brands are "ethical" enough, what her own wardrobe looks like and more. Enjoy!
Angelina is offering all INTO MIND readers a chance to win a 200$ Beklina gift card. To enter the giveaway, simply like this post on Instagram. The winner will be randomly chosen on June 27th.
P.S. The jacket I am wearing on the photo is by Ace & Jig, and it's still available from Beklina.
How did you first become interested in ethical fashion and what made you decide to open your own store?
I’ve always eaten organically, shopped in health food stores and so on. But I didn’t really know about organic cotton and ethical fashion until I had my first daughter. I started reading and exploring about healthy, sustainable options for baby clothing, and eventually I came across some brands that made high-quality baby clothing from organic cotton. I wanted to find the same amazing quality of textiles in women’s wear but I quickly realised that there was very little out there. That’s how it always starts, isn’t it? You can’t find something and so you have to make it yourself.
In the very beginning, Beklina was just a hobby for me. I sold a small selection of women’s organic cotton and hemp clothing. Now it’s been 10 years, and we stock fashion from a wider range of brands that fit our philosophy, both smaller just-starting-out designers to established runway brands.
How do you select new brands? In other words, how do you decide whether a brand fits Beklina's values and is "ethical"?
My motto for selecting lines is “Style first". I don’t bother exploring designers if I don’t love what they’re doing visually. If I love something I then think about whether it is a good fit for our customer base: individual and artistic women who care about ethics and sustainability and enjoy a native-modern aesthetic.
When there is a fit aesthetically, I dig in and take a look at the types of textiles the brand uses, where they produce (local is best) and what the work environments are like. It’s amazing how many designers are paying attention to these things nowadays and participate in green and/or ethical wares and production.
What is the business of selling ethical fashion like? Are there any special challenges that come with the territory of selling ethical fashion?
When I first started Beklina, ten years ago, ethical fashion was considered unusual and standout, and some had a negative bias towards it. They would stay away from eco fashion because they thought it wasn't "high-fashion" enough. I still come across people like this, but only very occasionally. Ethical fashion is mainstream, almost “normal” now, and the label “ethical” is considered a plus these days.
One tough part of selling ethical fashion is when you love something and then find out that it isn’t ethical, at least not from both an environmental and a social perspective.
Ideally, a garment would consist of organic materials AND have been produced ethically. But some people (both customers and brands) don’t see the full picture and only care about one or the other. For example, many customers support ethical brands because they are against unfair labour. But pieces made from non-organic materials aren’t technically fully “ethical”, even if they were ethically produced. On the other hand, there are also a lot of people who only care about the materials, because they are very sensitive to chemicals and need untreated fabrics for example.
I would say that our approach to buying is very all-encompassing. We know people are learning and growing, both the designers and the customers. That’s why we are comfortable picking up lines at different stages of their growth in eco fashion, in order to support the entire upward movement.
What does your own wardrobe look like? Do you exclusively wear ethical labels? What about beauty products?
I mainly wear my own line Lina Rennell and other pieces from our shop, mixed with a bit of vintage. I am a very basic simple dresser, rotating through a handful of outfits. I live in vintage Levis, and my knit sweater tops. I’m all over the place with beauty products. Mostly I'm trying out new lines that people send me. I don’t have a big beauty routine, other than I love a hot bath. I’ve always been minimal and “hippy” about beauty products. This is the deodorant I wear for example.
Ethical fashion labels can be expensive. What would you recommend to someone who is on a tight budget but wants to build a more ethical closet?
The first thing that comes to mind is that online the sale seasons are endless. If you like a shop’s curation, get on their mailing list! And don’t worry about building up an entire ethical wardrobe from scratch. Buy one or two pieces that you really love a season and mix in vintage. No matter the budget, vintage is warm, original and precious.
*This is a sponsored post. All opinions are my own.